MUMBAI: A knock described as “the greatest ODI innings of all-time” has left New Zealand with a more defined – and slightly easier – path into the Cricket World Cup semifinals.
That didn’t look likely when Australia slumped to 91-7 against Afghanistan in Mumbai overnight (NZ time).
But Glenn Maxwell responded with a miraculous unbeaten 201 from only 128 balls to give his side a win by three wickets and put them into the last four alongside hosts India and South Africa.
The Black Caps are fourth on the table with eight points from eight games, with a net run-rate (NRR) of +0.398, and play their final group match against Sri Lanka in Bengaluru starting on Thursday night.
A win would virtually send them in to the semis and a matchup with hosts and unbeaten tournament favourites India, as they have a notably superior net run-rate than Pakistan and Afghanistan, who also have eight points with one game left to play.
Afghanistan were set to score a massive shock victory over Australia – and by a huge margin which would have greatly boosted their net run-rate – and climb to fourth with 10 points, before Maxwell changed the game.
In the 22nd over of Australia’s chase for 292, the allrounder was deemed out lbw off Noor Ahmed, only to review it and survive through DRS. Three balls later, Mujeeb ur Rahman dropped a simple catch at short fine leg.
Maxwell was on 27 and 33 at that time, but never looked back, despite ending up being unable to run between the wickets because of cramps. He hit 10 sixes and 21 fours, with his 10th six coming off the final ball of the match to seal victory.
Afghanistan remained on eight points (NRR -0.338) and have to play South Africa in their final game starting on Friday night (NZ time) in Ahmedabad.
Pakistan, who kept their semifinal hopes alive with a rain-interrupted win over New Zealand on Sunday morning, meet defending champs and bottom-placed England in Kolkata starting on Saturday night.
Should New Zealand lose to eighth-placed Sri Lanka, Pakistan (and Afghanistan) would go past them with wins in their respective games, with Pakistan having the better NRR (+0.036) of that pair.
If the Black Caps beat a Sri Lankan side in some turmoil by a decent margin, the other two semifinal contenders would need massive victories to overhaul New Zealand on NRR.
Even if New Zealand scored a narrow victory, either Pakistan or Afghanistan would still need to win by a wide margin to pip the Black Caps for the right to play India in the semifinal in Mumbai on November 15.
One concern for New Zealand is the weather forecast for Bengaluru, with some thunderstorms predicted. If the match is unable to be completed, they would get one point – handing Pakistan and Afghanistan the opportunity to overtake them with wins.
Australian captain Pat Cummins, who shared in an unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 202 with Maxwell while contributing 12 not out from 68 balls, said Maxwell’s innings was: “The best I’ve ever seen, probably the greatest ODI innings ever.”